HERproject + Columbia Sportswear

At Columbia Sportswear, we believe we can have a positive impact on the world by improving the lives of men and women in our supply chain.

That’s why we partner with our suppliers and nonprofit organizations like Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) to implement HERproject – a multifaceted program that strives to empower women working in global supply chains by delivering training on health and financial literacy.

HERproject is a multifaceted program that strives to empower women working in global supply chains.

We specifically look at programs that improve the lives of women since they represent 75% of Columbia’s global supply chain workforce. Over the past ten years, approximately 30,000 women working with Columbia finished goods suppliers have received financial literacy or health education training through HERproject.

We caught up with Chhavi Ghuliani, Associate Director of HERproject:

What is the mission of HERproject and how did it get started?

The mission of HERproject is to unlock the full potential of women working in global supply chains. We achieve our mission by implementing programs in factories and farms around the world to promote women’s health, financial inclusion, and gender equality.

HERproject was started more than ten years ago to fill a need among women working in supply chains. Many of these women are entering the labor force for the first time, and too often they have to make trade-offs to be able to work full time outside of the home. We found that women were not taking care of their own health needs, they were often giving control of their wages to a male head of household, and they were facing harassment and even violence from male colleagues or supervisors.

As of 2017, approximately 30,000 women working with Columbia finished goods suppliers have received financial literacy or health education training through HERproject.

Our program was developed to bring basic information, skills, and resources to women in their place of work to address some of these issues. We believe that by investing in women workers business can also thrive.

And be sure to check out Xiaorong’s personal story:

What types of programs does HERproject offer and what kinds of skills are taught?

HERproject consists of three main programs: HERhealth, HERfinance, and HERrespect.

HERhealth raises awareness of critical health topics that affect women in particular: nutrition, personal and menstrual hygiene, and maternal health, among other issues.

HERfinance helps women build confidence to manage their wages, contribute to household financial decision-making, and utilize formal over informal financial services.

And HERrespect aims to address gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace by tackling some of the gender and social norms that are at the root cause of the problem.

Are the classes free for the women? Can all female employees take part?

HERproject programs are delivered during work hours free of cost to all employees. The cost of programs are usually covered by a combination of contributions from the employer, the brand which sources from that factory or farm, and through some grant subsidies that BSR receives.

We encourage all female employees to participate in programs, and also involve men where appropriate. For example, HERfinance programs involve all men and women at a workplace, and HERrespect addresses gender norms held by men and women, in both low-level positions and at the management or supervisory level.

What successes have you seen from the program?

For us, one of the most important measures of success for the program is that the empowerment of women, whether it is factory work or work on a farm, is on the top of the agenda in a way that it wasn’t ten years ago. We have reached over 700,000 women in over 620 workplaces with our program, and the majority of that has been in the last three years.

One of the most important measures of success for the program is that the empowerment of women.

Global companies such as Columbia Sportswear and their suppliers are prioritizing the needs of women workers and realizing that gender equality is not just about human rights, but it is also imperative in order to achieve business success.

How many corporations are involved and in what countries?

HERproject has worked with over 60 multinational companies to date in 14 countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

What kind of impact do you think the project has made on the workforce?

Across all areas in which we work we have seen significant impact. For example, we see more women seeking care from the onsite health clinic at their factories. Women are significantly more likely to use sanitary napkins rather than rags from the shop floor to manage their menstruation.

The empowerment of women and gender equality are essential to the achievement of our global development objectives.

Women are also increasing their savings, keeping a larger portion of their savings in a formal bank account, and getting more involved in spending and saving decisions with their families. In addition, equally important to us from a program scale and sustainability perspective, the employers we work with are seeing a significant reduction in absenteeism and turnover, which means there are bottom line benefits to investing in women workers.

Why do you think it is important to empower women around the world?

The empowerment of women and gender equality are essential to the achievement of our global development objectives.

Women represent half of the world’s population, but they still lag [behind] men on nearly all development indicators. Women represent 70% of the world poor. Women make up only 8% of the world’s executives. And women work two-thirds of the world’s hours but make only one tenth of the world’s income.

According to McKinsey, addressing these inequalities could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. But it’s more than an issue of sustainable economic growth–it’s also a human rights issue.

Learn more about Columbia Sportswear and HERproject: www.columbia.com/herproject

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